Player Development is a long-term process, requiring time and patience. Below, we draw on the expertise of authors and experienced coaches Keith and David Mayer to examine how coaches can adequately support players throughout the duration of their developmental journeys.

In This Article

The Personal Element of Coaching

The ‘soft skills’ of coaching are arguably the most important. To be truly effective in our roles, we must get to know our players, build positive relationships, and make them feel safe in our coaching environments. Crucially, this takes time.

“As humans, we often risk making assumptions about people and acting too quickly,” says Keith Mayer. “But it’s important that we take more time to build connections and let athletes bed in — to allow them to show their personal characteristics.

“Players need to feel content and comfortable,” he continues. “And to create that sense of ease, we must think about more than just the tactical and technical aspects of our practices; we need to look at behaviours too. What we say must be reflected in our actions — and our actions must be consistent. Authenticity is key.”

Additionally, we must consider the individual relationships we build with players, beyond our interactions with the team as a whole. “Kids won’t always have a great day at practice,” explains David Mayer. “Maybe they’ve had a bad day at school or an argument with their parents. We never truly know. So it’s important to be observant of our players and really talk to them.

“Have a chat with your players. Learn about what happened during their day. These conversations will help them to feel more comfortable in our environment.”

Taking a Long-Term Approach to Player Development 

As Player Development Project Co-Founder Dave Wright explains, taking a longer-term approach to working with players will often require us to reflect on our own instincts as coaches. “We live in a status culture — a quick-fix culture — where everybody is trying to achieve their own goals,” he says. “So it’s easy for us to get caught in that week-to-week grind, where we feel that we have to deliver something, see certain outcomes, and then move to the next thing.

“But our players might benefit more if we stand back, observe, let them learn what the task is, and then perhaps do it again.”

Here, a little self-awareness can go a long way. Are we delivering practices for our players or for ourselves? And are we giving players adequate opportunities to achieve the outcomes that they need from our sessions? Asking ourselves these questions will ultimately make us better coaches.

“Player development takes time,” advises Wright. “But that’s okay. We need to appreciate that it’s a slow process.”

Understanding Our Players and Their Needs 

Another easily overlooked aspect of player development is the importance of helping individuals to develop positive mindsets and performance behaviours (not just the technical and tactical skills that are most apparent on the pitch).

“I remember Scott Parker talking to the academy players when I was coaching at Fulham,” recalls Wright, “and he spoke entirely about behaviours and characteristics. This was someone with experience playing at the highest level, and he wasn’t talking about technical details; the emphasis was on characteristics like desire and determination.”

In fact, given the long-term nature of player development, many coaches in the field of talent identification prioritise these types of characteristics and performance behaviours when assessing players, noting that it’s easier to develop the technical and tactical skills later. Consequently, it’s vital that we help young players to understand the importance of these characteristics and develop them from a young age. 

“Remember, when you’re coaching, that it’s not about today’s session,” adds David Mayer. “Is it important? Of course, because there are things we want to get out of the session. But it’s a continual process.

“There will always be things to work on and improve. And the speed with which we do this will change, based upon the people we’re working with and the things going on in their lives. For some individuals, it might take ten or 15 years.

“Coaching and development are ongoing processes,” he concludes. “Our job is just to help players along that path.”

The Key Points

  • Players need to feel comfortable in our coaching environments in order to learn and develop effectively.
  • As coaches, we must take time to build connections and relationships with our players.
  • Player development is a slow, non-linear process, requiring time and patience.
  • Encouraging individuals to develop performance behaviours is essential to helping them maximise their potential.
  • Our players’ developmental journeys are long and continuous. Rather than fixating on short-term outcomes, we should endeavour to remember the long-term.

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